Category Archives: Volunteering

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1950s Doll House Restoration Project

1950s doll house

 

I’m a self-employed handyman and, like many in my line of business, Christmas/New Year is a quieter time. So when my wife Nicky (a COAM gardening volunteer) spotted an appeal in the volunteer newsletter for someone to repair a recently donated 1950s doll’s house, she suggested it would be a good project to keep me occupied until paid work built up again. The doll’s house was duly collected from the Museum and set up on the dining room table for what I was sure would only be a few days. Two things then conspired to turn this simple time filler into a five month project: firstly, four tropical storms in as many weeks led to a flood of requests for repairs to fences and shed roofs and suddenly my empty diary was full again; secondly, an initial inspection revealed that the work required to the doll’s house was more extensive than I had anticipated.  This ‘blog’ is therefore to explain what’s been happening, for the benefit of those at the Museum who may have been wondering where their new exhibit had got to.

The first job was to test and repair the electrical circuits so the lights could be made to work again. After much investigation and tracing of the delicate wires, the fault was traced to the little switches installed by the original craftsman. Sadly, these therefore had to be changed. Whilst sourcing period correct replacements it seemed sensible to switch to LED bulbs. However, these are polarity sensitive and not all the bulb holders were wired the same way, so I had to switch back to ordinary bulbs rather than disturbing the old wires and risking damage to them.

Originally, the lights were powered by batteries concealed in the roof void. However, opening up the roof revealed that the original battery set-up was no longer there, so the next idea was to convert the system to mains supply. This would make display easier and cheaper for the Museum. A suitable transformer was installed in the roof-space and behold the lights worked! or at least the upstairs ones did. More fiddling, advice from a BBC engineer and a bigger transformer and, at last, the downstairs lights worked too!

Doll house with window illuminated

With the lights working it was on to the windows. Three of the panes of ‘glass’ (Perspex) were missing, so a supplier was sourced that could replicate the originals in a very similar period material. Some of the wooden trim was also missing, so new sections were carved to the same dimensions and glued into place. A de-laminated plywood interior door was glued and clamped and the whole house was given a careful clean ‘Repair Shop style’ with cotton buds, water and mild detergent.

Cleaning doll house with cotton bud

Then came the problem of matching the original paint colours. Much experimentation with RAL charts and a lot of help from the local decorating centre finally arrived at near perfect matches for the three main colours, enabling the new trim to be blended in and flaking interior paint to be touched up.

doll house interior of window

The next job was to stabilise the crumbling external paint. At the time that the doll’s house was built, materials were still in short supply in post-war Britain, so the structure was made from whatever was available. The walls were made from previously varnished recycled plywood. Ingeniously, this was coated in a sawdust and glue mix and painted white to replicate a lime washed pebble-dash render. Unfortunately, over time, the bond between the varnish and the sawdust glue had broken down in places.

Dolls house with damaged render

Large patches of ‘render’ were therefore loose or missing. A coat of diluted PVA glue was applied to the remainder to prevent further deterioration and the guinea pig’s bedding supplies were raided to provide replacement pebbledash to cover the bald patches (Don’t tell Nicky but this needed a quick spin in the food blender to make it a bit finer before it was stuck on).

Repairing rendor on doll's house

Doll house with repaired render

The final task was to recreate the curtains. It was clear that there had been curtains at some stage, because curtain rails had been cleverly created by stretching springs between nails above each window, but some springs were missing and there were no curtains. At last a chance for Nicky to get involved. Some 1950s style fabric was pulled out of her extensive fabric store in our spare bedroom and the sewing machine was set up. At this point the task obviously became too daunting, so Nicky decided to break her shoulder to get out of it. This left me in charge of the sewing machine, attempting to deliver 10 pairs of something vaguely resembling curtains. Machine sewing is not one of the services I offer my customers, for reasons which would be obvious if you were to take a close look at my handiwork. However, new springs were sourced and the new ‘curtains’ were hung.

Doll house with restored interiorDolls house with new curtains and carpets

Finally, attempts were made to clean the original green velvet carpets, but these had been attacked by moths in the past and were in a poor state. They have been kept, but alternative carpets were fashioned from a new piece of velvet, in a colour matching as close as possible to the original.

Outside of restored doll's house

And there you have it. A five day time filler that became a five month project, involving several people to provide advice and assistance, but well worth it to preserve the fine handiwork of the original creator and enable it to be shared with new generations.

Written by Jonathan, Museum Volunteer


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Jess the sheep dog at 15 weeks

Jess at 15 weeks

Well Jess is continuing to grow at a pace and weighing in at 9.6 kgs, she is pretty much toilet trained and is becoming less of a full time job and more an integral part of the family. Socialising now is the priority as she is a bit limited with the current COVID situation, so, plenty of walks and chances to meet other people and dogs. She seems to love people as long as they are not to “in her face” she then tends to keep her distance for a while until she builds up courage. Dogs however are a bit more scary and she’d run a mile if she wasn’t on a lead so the more chances to meet them the better. Yesterday, she met a tiny puppy about the same age as her and was scared to death at first but a bit of perseverance and she soon overcame any fear and was rough and tumbling and realising what good fun it was.

Sheep dog puppy walking sheep up path

Now over to her main purpose in life, being a sheepdog! Over the last couple of weeks she has been to see the sheep at feeding time and is developing a mild interest so it’s important to keep nurturing it steadily. Today we needed to move the sheep to pastures new as we have recently wormed them and they need fresh grass so it seemed an opportune time to let Jess get a little more involved. All dogs are different and as a trainer I need to recognise what sort of temperament she has and how will she work sheep, some won’t develop a desire to work for many months, others dive straight in and attack ( this is the wolf ancestry hunt and kill instinct that ultimately drives them all to work).

sheep dog puppy observing sheep with head it's head in a bucket

Jess seems to be in the middle somewhere with quite an interest but a bit wary so it’s vital she doesn’t get put off by an angry sheep as this could affect her for life. Many pups don’t do anything at first particularly if the sheep aren’t worried by the dogs’ presence and don’t move away, the pup just ends up confused and unsure what to do. What we need is moving sheep to bring out the chasing instinct and this change of pasture seemed ideal. Starting with the lambs who have been grazing off the Hidden Meadow (our piece of chalk downland) I let them go past her and proceeded to follow them with Jess on an extendable lead, the video was taken by Rachael our shepherdess and you can clearly see Jess getting very excited, nipping at their heels and even showing a desire to want to go round them and head them off. These moments are without doubt my favourite part of training a working collie as you get that flood of relief that your new acquisition has something in her that we can work with.

For now that is about as far as I will go with her, just regular visits to see the sheep to build up a real burning desire to herd them, we’ll wait until she is big enough and fast enough to out run them before we start the serious business of training to commands etc. She will however be getting home schooling on the basics, walking steady, stopping, lying down etc. and of course coming back to me which seems to be our biggest challenge at the moment!

Steve Stone
Volunteer Shepherd at COAM


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Jess the sheep dog at 13 weeks

Well it’s been almost three weeks now and Jess is growing fast, she has gained 1.6 kgs and is noticeably bigger. Dogs are like children but the whole growing and learning thing is accelerated so that a few days can see a dramatic change in behaviour and attitude. She is now allowed out for walks having had her vaccinations so we are learning to walk to heel and getting used to traffic and strange people, she has a bit of a fascination with cars going past so I have to keep a tight hand on the lead and try and distract her as they whiz past. At home we are getting her used to living with a family and knowing her boundaries, plenty of trips to the lawn are paying off as the little accidents lessen off and she is starting to go to the door when the urge is there.

Jess the sheep dog puppy meets the sheep

 

A few days ago I took her to meet some of the museum staff and to have her first look at sheep. She was well accepted by all so I’m sure she will become a special volunteer in everyone’s hearts. It does somewhat depend on how she turns out as a sheepdog, some of which will be down to my training. Rachael (COAM’s Farm Assistant) and I took her to the sheep for a first look and she wasn’t too keen but they are pretty big. Regular visits will eventually bring out an interest and sometime in the next few months I will let her have a free run to encourage her to herd them we hope.

For now it’s just enjoying her young days being cuddled and played with to hopefully make a friendly happy dog!

Steve Stone
Volunteer Shepherd

Other blog posts by Steve

The circle of life
Jess the sheep dog


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Jess the Sheepdog

A new volunteer for COAM

So a mild enquiry about sheepdog pups that might be available after Christmas resulted in me being told that an old friend of mine who is a top sheepdog trials man might have some puppies, he lived in Sussex so not too far. I called and had a chat telling him I wanted a pup after Christmas if possible. Unfortunately he didn’t have anything currently although he knew of a pup at a neighbours and his dog was the father. I expressed mild interest and asked for some details and pictures to be e-mailed to me.

My old dog Ted was a rough coated, tri colour male dog and that is what we intended to get again as we liked that look, the puppy being offered was a Black and White, short coated bitch! Surely this would not be for us? The picture arrived, not the most appealing picture, they obviously weren’t into marketing!! She did however appear to be nicely marked.

Having established that she did indeed have two eyes I responded that we would like to see some more and a video if possible, inwardly I was not convinced. However when the better pictures arrived we were warming and had pretty much made up our minds to pay them a visit for a proper look, a visit to Sussex was quite appealing, it was a bit of a shock to find out that my old friend had moved to Devon when his neighbour sent the address of their farm!! So were we to go all that way just to see a puppy that was not what we intended to get and at least 3 months too soon. Suffice it to say it didn’t take long to have made arrangements to drive down and see her, stay overnight in a delightful little B&B called the Old Bakehouse in Chulmleigh Devon, go back and collect her the following morning and wend our way back home.

Our trip down was excellent and we arrived early afternoon to be greeted by the owner who led us to a farm pen, opened the door and out ran the sweetest little dog you could imagine, scooped up immediately by my wife Sue who exclaimed “we’re having her” My chances of a good deal had just gone down the drain! Our fate was sealed and after a very pleasant evening in Chulmleigh we found, ourselves back at the farm the following morning collecting our new charge. Money’s changed hands, papers sorted, a supply of her current puppy food obtained, popped in her travelling crate and on our way back home we went. Well talk about a change, our adorable soft little pup turned into a screaming howling wolf cub as she experienced car travel for the first time, we knew what to expect but with a 3-4 hour trip ahead it didn’t bode well. Fortunately after about half an hour she was a little sick, made some mess from a couple of other orifices and then settled down. The rest of the journey was quiet and Jess as she was now called was settling in to life with us.

Steve Stone
Volunteer Shepherd

Other blog posts by Steve

The circle of life
Jess the sheep dog at 13 weeks


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Chalk Cherries and Chairs Landscape Partnership

Be a part of the new Chilterns Summer Festival in 2020

Our friends, The Chilterns Conservation Board, are running a new Heritage Lottery Funded project called Chalk, Cherries and Chairs Landscape Partnership. As part of this project they are running an exciting Chilterns Summer Festival in 2020, to help promote the Chilterns and its unique heritage and landscape. Chiltern Open Air Museum are taking part in it and you can get involved too!

Are you a local artist/ business/ organisation or just someone who loves a good day out in the Chilterns?

Chilterns Summer Festival Blacksmith at COAM

As part of the brand-new Heritage Lottery Funded Chalk, Cherries and Chairs Landscape Partnership, the Chilterns Summer Festival offers a 9-day schedule of fun, educational and family friendly events across the Central Chilterns.

Chalk, Cherries & Chairs (CCC) is an ambitious five-year scheme which aims to connect local people to the wildlife and cultural heritage of the Central Chilterns. The scheme operates under three themes – wildlife, heritage and people – each project that falls under these three themes are all designed with the Chilterns landscape in mind. There will be no less than eighteen interweaving projects which share common threads, including volunteering, learning and digital media. The scheme will also provide small grants to encourage community initiatives.

Chilterns Summer Festival Chilterns Conservation Board

The CCC aims to engage and empower local communities in the Chilterns, while conserving the breath-taking character of this region we call home. From 13 – 21 June 2020, the CCC will be putting on a wide range of fun and informative events, to bring communities together and ensure everyone has a great time celebrating the Chilterns and its unique heritage and landscape. 

What kind of events will the festival include?

  • Brewery tasting and tours
  • Outdoor cinema events
  • Guided walks
  • Cherry themed events
  • Family-fun days in town centres
  • Light shows and installations
  • Adventure suppers
  • Music and dance performances
  • And much more!

The Chilterns Conservation Board are very excited to be working with lots of local businesses, farmers, and community groups on this new festival (which will run annually until 2024) and would love to work with more as well.

Chilterns Summer Festival

What are they looking for?

  • Volunteers (to help at town centre events, first aid, stewarding, communications help, etc)
  • Local businesses who want to: host an event, sponsor an event, showcase their products, have a stall at one of the events
  • Community groups, to work with them on unique community centred events that reflect a community’s needs and interests
  • Sponsors: these events will be advertised across the Chilterns and offer a great opportunity to gain widespread exposure for your brand and business in this region. Sponsorship is flexible and CCB are happy to discuss arrangements which work for both parties.

Further Information:

If you would like to find out more about the Chalk, Cherries and Chairs projects, you can visit the CCB website

To learn more about the festival and upcoming events or volunteering opportunities, sign up for their newsletter

For any further information, or press opportunities, please contact Elizabeth Buckley, Communications and Community Engagement Officer of the CCC on lbuckley@chilternsaonb.org


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Museum Inspires Author

Vix J Cooper, known as workshop leader and farm volunteer Jane at the museum, talks about how her time at COAM gave her inspiration when writing her book Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed. She says…

My senses are always given a treat by the wonderful landscape at COAM through the different seasons. This, plus time spent in the buildings, listening to visitors recounting their past experiences, and having a go at traditional technology and techniques is not only informative but inspires some of my writing too, such as regarding the impact of WW2 and traditional washing methods.

It feels a privilege earning the trust of the museum’s animals and getting to know their particular habits, likes and dislikes. The cats are usually the first to greet me when I’m on feed duties. They’re nicer than the cat in my story Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed, despite them crunching rabbit by my feet in Borehamwood! The cows tolerate my random singing when I’m grooming Clementine, and the hens normally respond to my clucks. Often, after I’ve finished a morning feed, I’ll sit on the step to Borehamwood with a cuppa and watch the birds and clouds, rain or sunshine dancing across Hill Farm barn roof, or fallen leaves racing around the site.

Lambing by moonlight is magical with shadows of the clouds, trees and animals roaming. I’ve learnt to work out “who goes there” from the different eye shapes glinting and moving across the site for farm and wild animals. The quiet of the night amplifies masticating mouths, rumbling stomachs and belches of the sheep, as well as the hooting of owls and barking of deer. My own family groan when I, or the car, reek of iodine and worse when it’s lambing time. Post-midnight showers can become almost routine before crawling into bed after lamb – or kid – late shifts. While the ewes are reliably well-behaved, the same can’t always be said of the goats who can have me doubling up with laughter over their antics: Dotty refusing to go in the field so we engage in a tug of war with me holding onto her horns and her walking backwards; Crystal taking me for a walk, dragging me at the end of her lead or standing up on her back legs to eat foliage up a tree; and Dora climbing in the wheelbarrow I’m trying to get out of the field after refilling the hay feeder.

With many Coopers in the world, I added Vix to J Cooper because I admire foxes for their adaptability and I thought Vix, short for vixen, would be different. I originally wrote Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed for children aged nine and above, but adults do buy it and anyone connected to the museum may just enjoy reading it to discover what and who inspired some of my characters and bits of the storyline. I’m currently writing a follow-up with the main character Hugo. I’ve also written a story, aimed at 3-7 year olds and currently with my illustrator, which should be published about September time. Traditional landscapes, plus my roles as workshop leader and forest school practitioner were certainly influential for this book. I’m restless if I go a day without writing, and special places such as COAM both sooth and exhilarate me.

Crazy Pets and secrets Revealed can be ordered from Amazon & other bookshops.


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The Future of Volunteering

 The future of volunteering

The Future of Volunteering?

Some voluntary organisations have recently argued that there is a financial imperative to embrace new ways of volunteering. It is true that many Museums, assuming they receive any regular funding at all, are seeing cuts to their funding. If you presume that volunteers only create economic value, you could argue that volunteers may be a way to “save you money”. At Chiltern Open Air Museum we engage volunteers to “add value” to the Museum experience. This draws on the argument that volunteers produce value that is not simply economic; they produce private and social value (less tangible benefits for themselves, the organisation and society more widely). When volunteering focuses on the additional benefits of volunteering, rather than seeing it as a means to reduce costs, we make best use of volunteers’ enthusiasm, skills and knowledge.

One of these news ways of volunteering is microvolunteering, defined by Institute for Volunteering Research as “bite-size volunteering with no commitment to repeat and with minimum formality, involving short and specific actions that are quick to start and complete.” Although some organisations argue that there are clear benefits to microvolunteering, I believe that it has some critical flaws. It is suggested that the short duration and repetitive nature of microvolunteering allows organisations to target the demographics missing from their volunteer base, for example allowing parents with limited free time to volunteer. Unfortunately, this assumes that volunteering is the best use of time for those people who don’t currently volunteer. With Museums trialing new engagement strategies (see for example the Natural History Museum, who are advertising “visiteering” – a portmanteau of “visiting” and “volunteering”), I believe that they are eroding the foundations of both those activities.

The concept of “gamification” also emerges in microvolunteering: the idea that engagement can be encouraged by applying game design techniques. For example the Natural History Museum advertises: “You will be set a challenge relating to the collections”. This builds on the trend for phrasing activities as competitions, and emphasising the instant gratification that occurs with the successful completion of the “challenge”. By phrasing volunteering as “a game” or “a challenge” we are excluding those volunteers whose motivations are not aligned with this way of thinking, like those who are volunteering for social reasons or out of a sense of charity. At Chiltern Open Air Museum, we have found that value is created by consulting and working with volunteers and integrating them into a community.

It is argued that the “many hands make light work” principle applies: is it better for 100 people to give 5 minutes of their time, or for one person to volunteer for a day? When volunteering focuses on longer term aims, the relationship between the volunteer and the organisation is strengthened, and the volunteer is enabled to develop skills which cannot be cultivated when the focus is short term. While the economic value of the two situations above might be roughly equivalent, I would argue that the private and social value are much higher when the length of volunteering is increased: expertise and confidence take time to grow.

We need to become advocates of volunteering best practice before people’s expectation of volunteering is significantly altered by this trend towards microvolunteering and gamification. If we allow people to see volunteering as bite-size, informal and challenging, this does not bode well for the time when the “missing demographics” become our “core demographic”. We must ensure that volunteering opportunities have value and that the experience is meaningful.

George Hunt
Visitor Services Team Leader


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The Pleasure of Volunteering

The Pleasure of Volunteering – A New Volunteer’s Endorsement

It’s a bitterly cold winter’s day. The sky is grey and the increasingly heavy rain is threatening to turn to snow.  The icy wind’s tentacles feel their way through every gap in my clothing. I am working alone.

A relatively new volunteer on the Museum farm, I am working at the side of a field today, adding the binders to a nearly completed laid hedge. My hands in my saturated work gloves are cold and the rain is creeping through those not so waterproof parts of my old rain jacket.

One year previously I would have been sat in my warm and dry office feeling pity for the wet and cold workmen on the building site opposite. But today I am happy. In fact, I am far happier than I was in my office going about my stressful managerial role. I am enjoying myself in these inhospitable conditions. Thank you Fate that gave me the early retirement opportunity to stand here on such miserable day!

So what attracted me as a volunteer and why am I happy to be wet and cold in a muddy field today? I had previously worked with another voluntary group that occasionally helped the Museum farm with specific projects. This gave me an insight into the Museum and its people. I had noticed the enthusiasm and dedication of the staff and other volunteers and their welcoming nature, and thought that one day I would like to become a regular volunteer.

The opportunity came and I took it. Over six months on, I am thoroughly enjoying my small role and remain enthused by the positive environment. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. There are no targets or expectations other than your own. You can dedicate as little or as much time as you want. Of course volunteers want to do a good job and be effective in their own way. One word of warning though – it’s addictive!

Volunteers-COAM-400px

Volunteers can choose to bring their own skill sets to their role. They often volunteer in areas they have an interest in such as building construction or gardening. Others, as I have chosen, do something completely different to their skills and interests. And what is so encouraging is that the staff and other volunteers give you the time, patience and encouragement to help you learn new skills.

Working in a cold wet field on my own today is entirely my choice. The task needed completing and the farm is short of volunteers today. So I just get on with it. But I am not unusual. Far from it. The Museum has many volunteers working on the farm, maintaining the Museum’s buildings and gardens that will also be out working in all conditions to help run and maintain the Museum – and enjoying it!

Although there is no pressure, volunteers are very committed to the Museum and are usually more than happy doing something they might not really want to do. And when it’s done, they feel great!

Volunteering is critical for the successful operation of the Museum. Without volunteers there would probably be no Museum as funding would not cover the value volunteers bring. And this value cannot be brought. As well as skills and experience some volunteers bring, others just bring enthusiasm, dedication and determination.

So it is a win, win situation. Volunteers get to do something worthwhile which they enjoy and the Museum gets the additional resource it needs to maintain an enjoyable visitor experience.

So if you are interested in volunteering, to get an idea of the opportunities, visit https://www.coam.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering/ Maybe you will be joining me in the rain one winter – or on dry and sunny summers day!

 


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